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Dion in the Solomons: The nine provinces and a special evening

By: Dion Peita, Category: Science, Date: 02 Jul 2012

Over 3500 performers and arts practitioners from across the Pacific are converging in Honiara, Solomon Islands, for the 11th Festival of the Pacific Arts. Our Collections Coordinator Dion Peita reports from Day 3...

Dion in the Solomons Day 3 #1

Dion Peita © Australian Museum

Diary - Day 3

About 95% of the Solomon Islands population are Christians, so with this is mind much of my morning activities were sombre so I decided to take in the FOPA village one last time before the masses converge tomorrow during the opening. Yet, during the early hours this morning, I observed a magnificent sight: the arrival of six sea-voyaging double-hulled canoes from their long oceanic voyage from Samoa.

The waka (canoes) are a combination of Hawaiian, Tahitian, Maori, Samoan, Tongan, Cook Islander crews. The observation and practice of Pacific sea voyaging by Pacific descendants has steadily grown over the last four decades since valuable traditional knowledge pertaining to ocean mapping and navigating by stars was passed on from a diminutive man from the Marshall Islands, Mau Pialug.

Mau provided the impetus for the rejuvenation and rebirth of this great Pacific mariner’s tradition. Nowadays, many experts on Pacific sea voyaging can be found in hubs throughout the Pacific – The Tahitians, Hawaiians, Maori are key to this continuation of this practice.

Nevertheless, back on land, I decided to take a more comprehensive look of the FOPA village, as in earlier accounts provided were incomplete – I had only mentioned the area that surrounded the main stage, meanwhile across the road is yet another extraordinary area where some festivities and performances will unfold. It’s a place I’m going to refer to as a homage to the nine provinces.

The Solomon Islands has nine provinces which are known as Central, Choiseul, Gudalcanal, Malaita, Makira and Ulawa, Rennell and Bellona, Temotu, Western and Isabel. The Guadalcanal province is probably most well known due to the capital being based here, Honiara. A local explains that there are some 990 Islands, but only a third is inhabited.

The village surrounds a man-made lake; the many houses are a celebration of each provinces' artistic and cultural expression. You are initially greeted to this area with several large contemporary carvings that are unique to each province. There’s one that fills me with awe; it features what appears to be a tuna as its head, and the rest is a highly stylised human form. Perhaps it is acknowledgement of this creature being a vital food source to the society, or perhaps a divine connection to ancestors – I will find this out as the week unfolds.

I stop momentarily outside the Malaita house, and notice a few of the young carvers putting final licks of paint on this stunning canoe. I asked them how long that they had been working on the project, and they reply with, “Only two weeks!” I’m gob smacked.

During the evening I had the good fortune of being invited to the to “po aotearoa”: an evening with the NZ delegation organized by Creative New Zealand. Heads of state including the Prime Minister Gordon Darcy and Madame Lilo, Minister of Maori Affairs, Dr. Pita Sharples and Noble representatives from Kingitanga (Maori royal family). They were also joined by key delegates from each Island nation.

The night was a spectacular event including new talent being showcased at FOPA: Pacific Underground, a mix membership of musicians from Christchurch and Dunedin; Koili, another collaborative band, primarily made up of Tokelauans, refreshing and new out of the South island, NZ; Festival stalwart Toni Huata and her band also presented songs from her new album, which is to be released in July.

Finally, it was an opportunity to catch up with friends Puawai Cairns from Te Papa, and Senior Kapa haka exponent Tomika Whiu and Tapeta Wehi. As for the performances? Sublime as expected.

Tonight the cherry on the proverbial cake will happen at the Lawson Tama stadium, whereby the delegations from across the Pacific will march and take pride of place at the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts, Honiara, Solomon Islands.

The Festival of the Pacific Arts is the largest gathering in which Pacific peoples unite to gain respect for, and appreciation of, one another within the context of the changing Pacific. Dion will be strengthening Pacific networks, exploring resources for the Australian Museum's social inclusion project that assists marginalised Pacific youth in NSW, and presenting a paper at the Pacific Youth forum to be held during this period.

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Dion in the Solomons: An opening to remember

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Dion in the Solomons: Celebrity status and a moment of reflection at Turtle beach